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Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

No. 76.--The Magic Shirt 1

'There was a king and a knight, as there was and will be, and as grows the fir-tree, some of it crooked and some of it straight; and he was a king of Eirinn,' said the old tinker, and then came a wicked stepmother, who was incited to evil by a wicked hen-wife. The son of the first queen was at school with twelve comrades, and they used to play at shinny every day with silver shinnies and a golden ball. The hen-wife, for certain curious rewards, gave the step-dame a magic shirt, and she sent it to her stepson, 'Sheen

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[paragraph continues] Billy,' and persuaded him to put it on. He refused at first, but complied at last, and the shirt was a great snake about his neck. Then he was enchanted and under spells, and all manner of adventures happened; but at last he came to the house of a wise woman who had a beautiful daughter, who fell in love with the enchanted prince, and said she must and would have him.

'It will cost thee much sorrow,' said the mother.

'I care not,' said the girl, 'I must have him.'

'It will cost thee thy hair.'

'I care not.'

'It will cost thee thy right breast.'

'I care not if it should cost me my life,' said the girl.

And the old woman agreed to help her to her will. A caldron was prepared and filled with plants; and the king's son was put into it and stripped to the magic shirt, and the girl was stripped to the waist. And the mother stood by with a great knife, which she gave to her daughter. Then the king's son was put down in the caldron; and the great serpent, which appeared to be a shirt about his neck, changed into its own form, and sprang on the girl and fastened on her; and she cut away the hold, and the king's son was freed from the spells. Then they were married, and a golden breast was made for the lady.

'And then,' adds Mr. Campbell, 'they went through more adventures which I do not well remember, and which the old tinker's son vainly strove to repeat in August 1860, for he is far behind his father in the telling of old Highland tales. The serpent, then, would seem to be an emblem of evil and wisdom in Celtic popular mythology.'


289:1 I have furnished a name to this nameless story, a long one, which Campbell got from ' Old Macdonald, travelling tinker.' Else I give it just as he gives it.

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